Up And Under books by A. Deborah Baker (book review).

Writing convincing books for both adults and younger age groups does not always come naturally to most authors. Usually, they find the age group which suits their style and stick with it. Exceptions are most likely to between adult and young adult where the main difference is the age of the principal characters and the degree to which hormones play a part in the development of the plot.

Very few can write over multiple age groups. Seanan McGuire has written distinctly adult books (‘October Daye’ series), others that can be regarded as YA (‘Incryptid’ series) and, for teens, (‘Wayward Children’ series) and now she has produced these ‘Up And Under’ books suitable for a younger age group under the name of A. Deborah Baker. Her writing seems comfortable in all the categories. These two books, ‘Over The Woodward Wall’ and ‘Along The Saltwise Sea’ are really one long story and you will need both, hence being reviewed together.

It is important to remember that most children prefer to read about children slightly older themselves. The two youngsters in these books are the same age. That is about the only thing they have in common, despite living on the same road. Avery is a neat, polite boy who expects everything to happen to schedule. Zib is scatter-brained and scruffy, easily distracted and interested in everything. They go to different schools and have never met, until they find the wall.

Avery, on his way to school, finds his usual route blocked by a burst water main. On the same day, Zib’s route is blocked by a hole caused by a burst gas main. Trying to find their way around the works, they find a wall obstructing their path, a wall that shouldn’t be there and wasn’t there before. To Zib, it is a great adventure, to Avery it is an exasperation. Nevertheless, they climb the wall.

Once over the wall, it vanishes and they find themselves in the Forest of Borders in a land called the Up-and-Under. They meet a large blue talking owl who tells them that if they want to go home, they will need to follow the improbable road to the Impossible City. There, they will find the Queen of Wands, who is the only person who can send them home. Zib is delighted with the idea of an adventure while Avery is suspicious and frustrated that nothing seems to be logical.

On the way, they make new friends. The Crow Girl rescues them from drowning in a mud pool. She is able to break herself apart into a murder of crows and is able to tell them something of the land they have found themselves in. Later, Niamh, a Drowned Girl, rescues them from drowning in water.

The Up-and-Under is divided into protectorates ruled by the Queen of Swords, Queen of Wands, King of Coins and King of Cups. None of them appear particularly friendly and some actively want to do the travellers harm, except the Queen of Wands. Once the, now four, companions reach the outskirts of the Impossible City they learn that the Queen of Wands has disappeared and if they want to get home they will need to find her.

Along The Saltwise Sea’ is volume two in this series. The book starts with a comprehensive summary of the first volume, ideal for readers who have missed it. It opens with the four companions walking away from the Impossible City, unsure as to how they are going to find the Queen of Wands. Tired and thirsty, they come across a wishing well, it is there when you wish for and need it. They fall into it and are flushed out onto the shores of the Saltwise Sea. Soon, they are taken aboard a pirate ship, face storms and learn more about the world they have fallen into.

There is no doubt that these are very likable books with Avery and Zib bouncing from incident to adventure. They face distinct peril and need their wits to survive. While very different in character and upbringing, they find that a friendship begins to form between them as they rely on each other’s strengths and the kindness of strangers, particularly the Crow Girl and Niamh, to overcome the obstacles set before them by the not-so-kind strangers.

Up-and-Under is a Wonderland as full of perils and the ridiculous as Alice’s Wonderland was. There can be few children who could resist the charm of reading about brightly coloured talking owls or fail to be amazed by a girl splitting onto crows. These are delightful books and Avery and Zib still have a long way to travel before they can reach home. Be prepared for a lengthy series with more wonders to enchant.

Pauline Morgan

December 2021

Over The Woodward Wall (Up And Under Book 1) by A Deborah Baker

(pub: Tordotcom, New York, 2020. 204 page hardback. Price: $17.99 (US), $25.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-9927-4)

Along The Saltwise Sea (Up And Under Book 2) by A Deborah Baker

(pub: Tordotcom, New York, 2021. 193 page hardcover. Price: $19.99 (US), $26.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-76828-5)

check out website: https://publishing.tor.com/

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